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Designing Successful Online Courses

Step 1: Determine A Livable Phase Approach. The Phase Approach begins with encouraging faculty to recognize that designing their online course is only Phase One of their efforts. By organizing work progress into Phase Two, Phase Three, etc, it frees instructors from feeling that everything has to be accomplished in their first development effort. Especially if teachers do not have a full-time instructional design team, progressive development is liberating and reassuring. Any part of a course can be addressed first, especially in a redesign: content sections, sequence, or specific assignments. Therefore in Step 1, determine which aspect of the course to redesign first (perhaps the final project, assignments, discussion, or assessment). Then decide which to do second, third, etc. This approach becomes the preliminary plan and can be changed as needs arise.

Step 2 Contemplate the Course Content. Transforming a course to an online format might provide the opportunity to include additional content which was too difficult to include in a traditional class (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Simonson et al., 2009). Because of the extraordinary online resources freely available, having students watch a larger variety of primary source videos, listen to audio and read additional material is easily woven together into the online platform. As content experts, faculty are the best able to select those online resources which are valid and effective. Such content can create invaluable opportunities to discuss and learn how to sift fallacy from fact.

Step 3 Reframe and Redesign Activities.Based on the examples provided in the sections above, consider which course activities need to be redesigned so that in-depth discussion and dialogue can occur in an online environment. Identify two or three activities which can be used in the first round of your course redesign. Using a variety of activities is beneficial. However, activities need to build upon the instructor’s expertise and refrain from overwhelming learners with too many types of assignments to master or technical details which are too complex.

Step 4 Unleash the Crowd. Even if faculty have never used group assignments in classes before, online environments provide a variety of benefits and means to facilitate them. Group interaction in the online environment provides another critical space for dialogue and discussion of content (Luppicini, 2007; Palloff & Pratt, 2005). In addition, groups, by their very natures, incorporate peer learning opportunities. When students have to explain their understanding, choices and reasons to their classmates they explore the content and process more fully.

Step 5 Present Expert Content with New Possibilities. One of the greatest frustrations with poorly designed online courses is that some do not provide students with any teacher-created content. Somehow these faculty believe having students read the text book and answer its questions will suffice to adequately meet learning objectives. When designing online courses, consider how to use the online environment to share your expertise. First, decide the modes to use. For instance, perhaps it will be audio lectures, PowerPoint or multimedia presentations, presentations accompanied by audio narration, video presentations of your lectures or discussions, or visual representations of lectures notes. One of the most powerful strategies is to incorporate a select few of these approaches and vary them. Not only do you maintain students’ interest more fully switching from video clips, to audio, and then text, but you also appeal to different learning styles and preferences (King & Gura, 2009; Simonson et al., 2009). This experience is one which can be quite enjoyable; instructors have the opportunity to include and develop materials which would have been impractical within traditional settings.

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